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Pillar from Buttermere

A long but rewarding route in the Western Fells


From the top of Scarth Gap Pass all the walkers trooping up from Buttermere turned left and made for the nearby summit of Haystacks. Straight ahead though,lay the craggy walls of Pillar and Kirk Fell broken by the dark gap of Black Sail Pass while below was the remote valley of Ennerdale, its landscape of pines not typical of the Lakes but no less beautiful. In this valley the river Liza meandered in its stony bed amongst the patches of trees and the peak of Great Gable rose high above the valley's upper reaches. It was into this empty wilderness that my path lay.

The way up from Buttermere requires little navigation. I'd ascended from Gatescarth with everyone else, turning sharp left past the copse of trees and climbing steeply up away from Buttermere's still water, now left well behind.

Heading down the far side of the pass I was immediatedly on my own. I think one or two of the Haystacks bound walkers actually looked over as if to say I was going the wrong way, and though Wainwright named Haystacks among his favorite fells I'm sure that with the numbers going there today, he would have followed this path instead.

The way was at first a little boggy until I found the path again following a fence down the slope. My steady descent took me down to the left south of Haystacks and towards the two Gables outlining the head of Ennerdale. The River Liza sparkled in patches of sunlight which moved slowly over the green landscape of trees and heather. It was a scene that recalled more of the Scottish Highlands than the Lake District and there was little sign of human habitation anywhere as I tramped down to join the path following the valley's floor. There is no motor road here, just a track, and a forestry sign informs that the car park at Bowness Knott is fully 6 miles away - further away than my start point in the next valley of Buttermere.

I followed this track towards Great Gable and presently the hut of Black Sail Youth Hostel came into view ahead. I have stayed at many of the Lake District's Youth Hostels - a few years ago mind, not being particularly youthful now - but never this one and as it is in one of the best locations in the region I made a point to stay at some time - if I'm not deemed too old that is! The door was open so I went in to see if they sold cups of tea or glasses of orange or any such thing. There was a mural of what appeared to be a Viking ship called the Black Sail on one wall which I thought was quite good but nobody was about so I had a snack on the bench outside before continuing on my way.

The path now led downhill slightly and briefly alongside the river before crossing it by a wooden footbridge. The trees ended around this point and the upper valley was a wide hollow of rough pasture watched over by Great Gable and Kirk Fell and in it, I appeared the only person for miles. On up the opposite slope and the going was easy on grass until a lone tree was reached clinging to the fellside just below some rocks. Here the path steepened over the rocks and became rough as it climbed out of the Ennerdale Valley once again. I came to a point where the track followed the stream descending from Kirk Fell but the way doesn't cross the river. Instead, the path re appears after a short bouldery section and climbs off up to the right. Here a waterfall in a large gully could be seen behind, a great rocky gash in the side of Kirk Fell. The route soon though began to curve back around to the left as the gradient eased and there in front was the view across to Yewbarrow and Wasdale Head - the top of Black Sail Pass.

Wasdale is surprisingly close to Buttermere as the crow flies and in fact most of the main valley systems of the Lake District with the exception of the eastern ones are within a short(ish) walk of here. Buttermere and Ennerdale are on this walk, Wasdale was just below, while Borrowdale was just over Windy Gap between the Gables. Langdale and Eskdale were a little further but still easily within reach if either were my destination for tonight.

Now though I followed the path to the right or roughly west towards Pillar. Soon after passing a small tarn on the ridge, I left the path to climb the short slope to Looking Stead where I stopped for the first half of lunch. Looking Stead is a superb viewpoint and I could trace my route from Scarth Gap past the youth Hostel and up around to Black Sail and up to where I now sat beside the lonely windswept cairn.

Onwards again and past the turn off for the High Level Route. I'd been in half a mind to follow that route to Robinson's Cairn and gain the summit by the Shamrock Traverse to the side of Pillar Rock but the lateness of the hour meant that that route would be saved for another day. I continued on up the ridge.

This was a good route anyway. The ridge was steep and rocky in places though never difficult and the views over Wasdale to the Scafells expanded the higher I climbed. Now level with High Crag across Ennerdale - not so far to go now. The path then crossed a wide and gently sloping area of sheep cropped turf before a final steep rough ascent led me up past a deep gully dropping away to the forests of Ennerdale far below. Here I passed a couple descending from the top - including them, I'd seen 5 people on this ridge and no-one between Scarth Gap and Black Sail. After a small stony summit, the wide flattish top of Pillar was directly ahead. Here I had the second half of my lunch in the summit shelter which I had to myself, huddled against the cold wind which now blew up here.

The best views are to be had by headind to the edges of Pillar's summit plateau and I wandered to the North a hundred or so metres where the view down to Ennerdale Water was particularly impressive. So was that over the several tops of Haystacks, a landscape scattered with tarns, towards the North and then back along the ridge I'd ascended to the curiously square looking top of Great Gable and around to the stark crags of Scafell and the Pike.

I followed the edge of the cliffs overlooking Pillar Rock and Ennerdale before heading back the way I'd come to Black Sail Pass and on down to the valley. This is a long walk and I was glad I'd not tackled the High Level Route this time as I trudged back past the Youth Hostel in the early evening light. Indeed, the haul back up to Scarth Gap was an effort though thankfully from this side, the climb is neither too steep nor too long. It was a steady ascent taken at a slow pace.

They were still wandering up and down the ridge to Haystacks as I reached the pass and stopped for a short rest. As I began the last stretch down to Buttermere, the evening sun emerged from the clouds to light the fells opposite in a warm golden glow before twilight began to overtake the Buttermere Valley.

Here's the route to Pillar and Haycock from Wasdale

Pete Buckley

Essentials >>> Up 1110m >>> Down 1110m >>> How Far? 15.4km >>> How High? 892m/2927ft

Ennerdale and High Crag

Ennerdale and High Crag

Great Gable

Great Gable

Wasdale Head

Wasdale Head

Buttermere from Scarth Gap

Buttermere from Scarth Gap

Please see the table of contents below for more walks in the Lake District

Posted by PeteB 12:44 Archived in England Tagged me mountains lake_district walking hiking vacation adventure holidays foot Comments (0)


The Foxes Tarn Route from Eskdale

overcast 15 °C

Scafell is the second highest mountain in England and receives a small fraction of the visitors who dutifully troop up its slightly higher neighbour Scafell Pike. The mountain rises above the isolated country between Wasdale and Eskdale and this route via Sampsons Stones and Foxes Tarn is - by Lakeland Fellwalking standards - a fairly tough walk but varied and interesting throughout.

It wasn't actually raining but the amorphous grey cloud hid everything above 2000 feet as I set out up the track from near Wha House Farm in the Eskdale valley. Passing the attractively sited cottage of Birdhow, I reached Taw House Farm where I ignored both the (tied up) dogs and the sign for Brotherikeld to the right to follow a lane straight on past a couple of bemused and damp looking donkeys to gain open fields on the slopes beyond. A short while later I crossed the stile to the open fellside above with views back down the green valley of Eskdale.

Beyond the stone wall the path led a little way to the right before I took a left branch up a slope of bracken. This climbed up steeply, passing some waterfalls amongst the trees on the left soon leaving the valley behind to level out in an area of rough grassland and low crags. Topping a low rise, the way ahead was clear to see across a flattish green expanse and to the right of some higher crags perhaps a mile away. Beyond all was shrouded in mist.

So this was the Lake District on a summer weekend. Where were the crowds of tourists? Presumably wandering down the middle of the road in Bowness and Ambleside making the traffic jams even worse. There was nobody else here, for this was Upper Eskdale, the regions's remotest valley and I had it to myself which is how it should be! Passing below the higher crags, I could now see towards the head of the valley across the damp green expanse known as the Great Moss where the River Esk and its tributaries wound like ribbons on their journey down from the mountains. The cloud had lifted a little now showing some of the rough stony ridges leading up to Bowfell and Esk Pike though the summits remained hidden. Above Scafell appeared impregnable with the rocky bastion of Cam Spout Crag guarding any approach, a wall of forbidding grey rock that rose into mist of a similar shade.

I followed the path down towards the river and past an ancient sheepfold to the gargantuan boulders known as Sampson's Stones. I was surprised to see no-one here either as this is also the route to Scafell Pike from Eskdale. I remembered sheltering from a snowstorm here with Dad in the Easter holidays many years before and spent a few minutes identifying where we'd been.

From Sampson's Stones my route lay across what the stream of Cam Spout though today it was more of a raging torrent - the waterfall of the same name crashing with some force down the mountainside above - and at first I couldn't see an immediate crossing that would allow me to stay dry! There's always a way though - and by wandering downstream from the path to where it was easier I was soon heading up the steep ground on its far side. The scrambling here remains easy if you keep well over to the right and don't approach the waterfall too closely and where the path gave out I was able to follow a nice easy groove in the rock back to the left higher up where with minimal use of the hands I gained the grassy slopes above.

I paused to admire the wild beauty of Upper Eskdale below before setting off again up into the all enveloping mist now just above. The path here is clear up to Mickledore - the ridge separating Scafell from Scafell Pike - albeit very steep and loose in its upper sections. I actually missed my way here as the route to Foxes Tarn couldn't be seen in the mist. If you keep on the main path it's the way to Scafell Pike but when I'd managed to locate it - I turned up into a gully on the left which had a small waterfall emerging from its lower reaches.

The gully was a forbidding place today and its enclosing rock walls rose into the mist on either side dripping with water. Each time there was an obstacle though there vwas always an easy way around it and despite the river I stayed dry - well almost - and gained height quickly. Soon I emerged at Foxes Tarn which is basically a small pool with a big rock in the middle. From here the path climbed steeply but without further obstacles up through the damp greyness towards the top of Scafell somewhere above.

I remember the summit of Scafell having breathtaking views though today there was only grey fog and damp grey rocks the same as below but a bit colder and breezier. There was no need to stay so I set off on the path down the ridge towards the subsidiary peak of Slight Side where the view was exactly the same as from Scafell. In bad visibility it's important not to stray too far to the left here as there are steep crags along the length of the ridge. From Slight Side I actually went too far to the right to avoid the cliffs but it's safer on that side.

Passing some very old looking aircraft wreckage the mist suddenly parted and there was the Irish Sea seen over grassy hills dappled with small shining tarns beneath the grey ceiling. Recognising the unfamiliar side of the Wastwater Screes ahead I went back to the left where the going was now easy and found a path that appeared in the grass leading me towards the pointed top of Harter Fell on the far side of Eskdale.

I took a path that led off the main one down to the left to take me back to where I was parked and this led unerringly in the right direction until instead of crossin a stone wall it followed it on the right through some fairly thick bush of bracken and fern. The path never faded though despite being hidden in places by the undergrowth and where the wall turned back uphill there was a stile and I was able to follow the route back down to the road.

Essentials >>> Up 960m >>> Down 960m >>> How Far? 15.1km >>> How High? 964m/3162ft

Posted by PeteB 14:47 Archived in England Tagged me landscapes mountains lake_district walking hiking adventure foot Comments (0)

Skiddaw and Longside Edge

The Route from the Bassenthwaite Side

Most visitors to the lakes will recognise the classic outline of Skiddaw, the graceful lines rising high above Keswick’s busy streets or as a back drop to those famous views of Derwentwater that adorn so many calendars and postcards of the region. Of those who choose to walk up England’s fourth highest peak, most do so by the wide path from Keswick along which the world and all his dogs can be encountered. There is however, another and unfamiliar side to this most familiar of mountains.

Leaving the A591 about a mile south of the Ravenstone Hotel near the path to the Osprey viewing platform, a pleasant forest trail runs northwards following the road, the way being indicated by yellow markers. After a short while the track leads out of the trees and Bassenthwaite Lake is seen below – incidentally the only major body of water in the Lake District with the name “lake” , the others being “mere”, “water” or “tarn”. Shortly afterwards we part company with the yellow markers which lead back to the right and 50 yards further on the the way veers right over a stile before slanting steeply across the hillside above.

A steep ascent brought me to a well placed rest rock on the grassy ridge above. Here the path doubled back on itself and ascended the ridge towards the sharp peak of Ullock Pike. Skiddaw itself was to the left – a huge green and grey mass – while the west Cumbria plain spread out beyond the hills of Bassenthwaite. Steadily climbing this fine ridge with its ever expanding views, brought me up in good time, by my standards, to a last short scramble which led to the top of Ullock Pike – Oh not quite – the real top was a couple of minutes further on! As false summits go though, far better than being faced with another half hour to walk.

Ullock Pike seems out on the edge of things. The cluster of familiar peaks around the head Borrowdale seemed almost as distant as the hills of Galloway in Southern Scotland seen behind, across the sands of the Solway Firth, and it was here that the mountains ended. Between me and Scotland were low hills and farmland leading to the coast and all was far below.

Now I followed the narrow ridge, known as Longside Edge which is just as good as the one leading up to Ullock Pike, which could now be seen behind framed against the pastoral landscape beyond. I stopped again at the top of Longside, where a small cairn on the narrow ridge marked the highest point. From here the main track led down and across to Skiddaw but I left this at the bottom and headed over springy turf to the cairn on Carl Side where views down the steep slopes to Keswick could be had just beyond the summit.

Leaving the deserted top of Carl Side I rejoined the main path abd began the climb up Skiddaw. The grass rapidly gave way to grey shale as the path climbed steeply and the people I saw coming down appeared to be finding it just as hard work. Eventually with knees aching I reached easier angled slopes and people could be seen milling around on the summit just ahead. The ridge brought views of Blencathra looking somewhat grassier and less imposing from this angle and of Helvellyn to the south separated from the central lakes by the deep trench containing Thirlmere.

I had lunch in the north top shelter which protected me from the cold wind which blew up here at 3000 feet. People could be seen toiling up the wide track from Keswick past the cone of Low Man but the lands to the north of here and Blencathra showed little sign of human influence, a total contrast to Keswick and its valley to the south. Here the hills of the north stretched wide and lonely beneath the empty skies.

My chosen way down would lead me first to the North Col. This is not the Tibetan Route to Rangbuk Monastery but a wide grassy saddle between Skiddaw and Broad End to the north. Leaving my lunch spot a short descent to the north brought me to the namesake of that famous col where the wind was doing its best to make the experience as authentic as possible. Now I followed the steep edge around past the col and picked up a faint path which led slowly around to the left. Ahead were views of Scotland and the sea and to my left a wild valley below the steep slope of Skiddaw.

The path became more obvious the lower I went and back in the heather and bilberry zone there was an obvious crossroads. The main path led straight on but a consultation with Wainwright and my map suggested the narrow left hand fork was my route. This led across the heathery slopes – below the steepest parts now – towards a sheepfold visible in the bottom of the valley below. I presently crossed a stream and turned right onto a grassy trail that had been visible from above and now followed the river for five minutes before taking a left fork onto a shallow col.

This whole area of Barkbethdale and Southerndale was completely empty of people and I saw no-one at all on the descent until I reached the forest trail again. I wouldn’t recommend this way down in misty weather though, there are far too many opportunities for getting lost although missing a path here would result in a longer walk than intended rather than falling off anything.

From the col I followed a bumpy ridge down with Ullock Pike and Longside Edge high above to my left. Rejoining the main path at the bottom there was a wooden bridge over Southerndale Beck by another stone sheepfold. From here it was briefly back uphill towards Ullock Pike and so to the col where I’d stopped at the first rest rock.

Posted by PeteB 09:52 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking adventure foot Comments (0)

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